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Knights welcome Porter Ridge in 4-A semifinals

North Davidson's Devonte Moore breaks a run into open space against Mount Tabor in last week's 4-A playoff game. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)

There isn’t a high school football team anywhere that would be bothered by having to practice on Thanksgiving — in fact it’s a goal for most teams — because that means being deep in the state playoffs.

And that’s where North Davidson is as the undefeated Black Knights get ready to host once-beaten Porter Ridge in the 4-A state semifinals Friday night at Palmer Field.

“Yes, that’s a good thing,” said North coach Mark Holcomb, whose team is 14-0. “That’s nice. It’s nice to be practicing on Thanksgiving.”

Then comes the hard part.

Porter Ridge (12-1) brings a speedy, option-based attack that has two 1,000-yard rushers. The Pirates have won five in a row.

“They’ve got some kids who can run,” Holcomb said. “We’ve got to play assignment football against the option. They run a couple of different kinds of option and you have to be disciplined. You can stop it, stop it, stop it and stop it. The next thing you know, you miss one and you’re chasing them.”

North has been home the entire playoffs playing before huge crowds, a point not lost on Porter Ridge coach Blair Hardin, whose team is having to go on the road for the first time in the playoffs.

“It’s going to be a hostile environment,” Hardin said. “They’re playing good football on both sides of the ball. They’re a complete team that doesn’t make many mistakes. They execute well. They’re good up front on both sides of the ball with a lot of skills. They’re a scary group.”

North reached by the semifinals by beating Western Guilford 45-17, Dudley 36-26 and Mount Tabor 20-14 last Friday.

Porter Ridge crushed Watauga 69-0 in the first round, followed by a 16-6 win over A.C. Reynolds and a 28-21 triumph over Sun Valley last Friday.

Holcomb’s team faced an early 7-0 deficit against underdog Mount Tabor, gained the lead and then had to sweat out a win whose margin was a provided by a pair of Spencer Landfried field goals, the first one a 48-yard kick on the last play of the first half to break a 14-14 tied.

While the Knights played well overall on defense, the offense struggled, particularly in the second half and Holcomb wants that to change for Friday night against what he expects to be a formidable opponent.

“The further you get in the playoffs, the better they get,” Holcomb said. “We’ve got to play a little better up front than we did Friday night. We didn’t block well at times, especially late in the game when we needed a first down. Probably got too conservative in not throwing the ball as much as we could.”

Holcomb gambled on a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter that saw Landfried come up short on a run and take a vicious hit on the sideline. Mount Tabor scored on a 73-yard touchdown pass on the next play to tie the game.

“I don’t think that I had one of my better games coaching Friday night,” Holcomb said. “I felt like our kids bailed me out on a couple of situations. I felt like I let us down a couple of times.”

But Hardin felt some anxiety as well. His team led 28-7 on Friday and had to hold on for the win.

“At this point of the season we’ve got to protect the football and we had three turnovers last week,” Hardin said. “We’ve got to improve there.”

North has a size advantage on a powerful defensive line anchored by 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Shy Tuttle and 6-3, 230-pound senior Andrew Mayton.

“They’re very good,” Harden said. “I think they’ve got 30 sacks between them. We’ll definitely know where they are and try to block them the best we can.”

The Knights must concern themselves with stopping Porter Ridge’s potent run. Leading the way is senior tailback and UNC Charlotte signee Chris Duffy, who has 1,277 yards and 15 touchdowns. Jerrick Rose, a junior, has 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Bucs don’t emphasize the pass but they can throw as quarterback Nick Vagnone, one of three Porter Ridge has used at the position this season, has thrown for 714 yards and nine touchdowns. Porter Ridge has a deep threat in wide receiver Luke Bayly, who has 33 catches for 578 yards and nine TDs.

North has an almost equal amount of weapons out of its spread attack. Conlee Hunter leads the way with 956 yards rushing and 13 TDs while speedy Devonte Moore has 950 yards and 10 TDs. Ketrick Eller and Tevin Tuttle have both topped 600 yards in rushing. Quarterback Chase Mitchell has thrown for 1,390 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In a close game, Landfried could be a deciding factor. The 5-11, 175-pound senior has kicked 16 field goals and can hit them from beyond 50 yards.

But the Bucs also have an outstanding kicker in Matt Wogan, who has committed to Oregon. Wogan, rated as one of the top kickers in the country, has eight field goals this season, including one from 56 yards.

The winner will play New Bern or Scotland for the state championship on Friday, Nov. 30, at UNC’s Kenan Stadium. It’s the ultimate goal for any high school football team.

“There’s definitely a lot of excitement in the school and the community,” Holcomb said.

Mike Duprez can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 218 or